COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina's offense finally opened things up this season. Freshman quarterback Jake Bentley was a big reason why.
Bentley threw for two touchdowns and 201 yards Saturday in his first college game to lead the Gamecocks to a 34-28 victory over Massachusetts. The victory matched the Gamecocks total from their dysfunctional 2015 season and was the most points they had scored this fall.
"We just really opened up the playbook when Jake was back there, because we know he can throw it very well," said receiver Deebo Samuel, who had eight catches for 106 yards.
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp was expecting to redshirt Bentley this season before the team's mounting offensive problems — they entered dead last in points per game in the Football Bowl Subdivision — left the first-year coach open to any solution.
Bentley proved the right answer against the Minutemen (1-7). He led the Gamecocks (3-4) to touchdowns on their first two series, and then threw a pair of pretty fade passes for TD, the first from 16 yards out to K.C. Crosby and later a 24-yarder to Bryan Edwards to lead 27-7.
When UMass cut things to 34-28 with less than 5 minutes left, Bentley accounted for 30 yards to help the Gamecocks run out the clock.
Muschamp said he and quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper decided Bentley had improved enough from August until now to be a positive change for the team's attack. Bentley had waited for his shot behind senior Perry Orth and fellow freshman Brandon McIlwain, who had each started three games this season.
"At the end of the day, we felt like he had progressed very well," he said.
Bentley was not available to the media per Muschamp's rules against letting freshman do interviews.
Running back David Williams ran for two 1-yard TDs for South Carolina, but said he was excited about Bentley's debut.
"I've just been impressed since I met, his IQ, how comfortable he is," leading the Gamecocks, Williams said.
Muschamp was frustrated with his defense, especially in the second half when the Minutemen rallied.
"It was an excited locker room because we won," he said. "But it's also a locker room that knows it made mistakes and corrections have to be made."
UMass did its share to help with three turnovers in the opening half, two which led to two South Carolina scores.
Tight end Adam Breneman had two TD catches for Massachusetts, which fell to 0-3 against Southeastern Conference teams this fall.
MASSACHUSETTS: UMass has been outscored 131-77 in its four games this season against teams from the Power 5 conferences.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Its future — and offensive recovery — may have started with Bentley behind center. The freshman, who'll turn 19 next month, is sure to have some bumps ahead, maybe as soon as next week's home game against No. 18 Tennessee. But there was little benefit keeping the strong-armed Bentley on the bench if he could spark up the offense this season.
SOUTH CAROLINA'S RUN GAME
After gaining only 30 yards in a 28-14 loss to Georgia two weeks ago, Gamecock runners put up 194 yards against the Minutemen. Freshman Rico Dowdle led the way with 87 yards and Williams had 69 yards.
Breneman said UMass knows how close it has come in its games with the SEC this season — losing 24-7 to Florida and 47-35 to Mississippi State before the South Carolina game.
"Is it impressive that we've played with three SEC teams so far and you look back on it and see that we could've won all three of those games if we would've made one less mistake," Breneman said. "At the same time, at some point, being close isn't good enough. I think that's the feeling in the locker room."
MASSACHUSETTS: The Minutemen return home to play Football Championship Subdivision opponent Wagner. The game ends the UMass home season as it finishes with games at Troy, BYU and Hawaii.
SOUTH CAROLINA: The Gamecocks go back to the Southeastern Conference grinder against No. 18 Tennessee. The Gamecocks have only won two SEC games the past two seasons and will face a difficult challenge against the Vols, who are in the thick of the Eastern Division chase.